Tuesday, July 1, 2008

This Week in the Civil War: June 29-July 5

Busy Work

Out from under Halleck’s fishy eye and back in command of the Army of the Tennessee, Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant is busy shaping things up in his new headquarters town, Memphis, Tennessee. Captured a month ago by a flotilla of Federal warships, the city remains determinedly and bitterly Confederate. “Affairs in this city seem to be in rather bad order,” Grant wrote Halleck the day after he arrived (June 23). After a week of observing things close up, he adds, “There is great disloyalty manifested by the citizens of this place.”

But Grant had promised, “In a few days I expect to have everything in order,” and so he has been busy. A provost guard has been given three regiments with which to keep order; Union soldiers have been ordered to behave themselves; local ministers have been told to stop leading prayers for the Confederacy (but prayers for the Union are not required); troops have been dispatched in various directions to protect roads, telegraph lines, and railroad track; cavalry has been sent into the countryside on scouting missions.

But Grant's Army of the Tennessee is spread thin, unable to be everywhere at once. Confederate forces under Nathan Bedford Forrest and others continue to roam western Tennessee, cutting transportation lines, capturing supply convoys, and taking prisoners. Bands of Rebel cavalry are “as thick as thieves,” grumbles Maj. Ten. William Tecumseh Sherman in a letter to his wife, Ellen. One of Grant’s division commanders, Sherman on June 27 is about 40 miles from Memphis, sweating in intense heat and swatting at Confederate raiders like flies.

Like Grant, Sherman has his hands full. His men had only just repaired some railroad bridges destroyed by the Confederates when the Rebels promptly derailed the only locomotive available to the Union forces in the area. “The Secesh” also captured a hundred Union men returning from furlough. And the news keeps getting worse. Confederate forces are said to be massing at Holly Springs, Mississippi, and Sherman will have to attack them.

“You must not suppose the war is at an end or anything like it,” Sherman writes Ellen as he launches into yet another pessimistic lecture on Southern attitudes. “I am always discouraged when I come in contact with the people,” he explains. “They all seem so deeply bitter or indifferent that I see no hope to arise from them.”

Making things worse is the scorching sun of early summer, so debilitating that that many of Sherman’s men collapse and have to be carried away in wagons. “I don’t think one half our force is fit for duty,” he tells Ellen. Sherman himself was so weakened by the sun that he, too, had to take to riding in a wagon instead of on his own horse. He tells Ellen that he has decided to replace the “small military cap” (a kepi) he had worn with a (wide-brimmed) straw hat from Memphis.

ELSEWHERE WITH THE OHIOANS: Col. Rutherford B. Hayes and the 23rd Ohio continue to roost on Flat Top Mountain in western Virginia, enjoying the view and not doing much except looking for a new camping ground with a better water supply. All week, reports from McClellan’s campaign on the Virginia Peninsula reach Hayes’ isolated camp. The reports are mixed, to say the least: McClellan has entered Richmond, McClellan has been defeated, Richmond is burning, McClellan has lost 15,000 to 20,000 men and has retreated.

“But these reports are so deceptive as to complicated and extensive movements that I must hear further before I give up to gloomy anticipation,” Hayes tells his diary. He adds, “But I am anxious!”

ELSEWHERE IN THE CIVIL WAR: On Sunday, June 29, a disorganized Confederate pursuit keeps McClellan retreating, his rear guard fighting furiously. Most of the Federals get away, but 2,500 sick and wounded are left behind at Savage’s Station. The next day, a major battle erupts at Frayser’s Farm and, although Lee loses an opportunity here to split McClellan’s army, there is a larger meaning: a Confederate force has foiled McClellan’s ultimate objective and prevented an attack on Richmond by a larger Union force. Tuesday, July 1, brings the Battle of Malvern Hill, the last of the Seven Days’ battles. From now on, McClellan is in sullen retreat, the Peninsula Campaign a failure.

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